Gina Raimondo, who as Rhode Island general treasurer championed a bill three years ago that overhauled state employee pensions, won Rhode Island's heated Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night.
Raimondo, with 42.2% of the vote, outdistanced Providence Mayor Angel Taveras (29.2%) and political newcomer Clay Pell (26.9%).
She will face three-term Cranston Mayor Allan Fung general election in November. Fung bested businessman Ken Block 55% to 45%. Fung himself negotiated pension compromises with municipal unions, as did Taveras.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent turned Democrat, did not seek re-election.
In the Democratic primary for the treasurer's office that Raimondo is vacating, investment fund manager Seth Magaziner trounced Frank Caprio, who was looking to reclaim the office that he gave up to run for governor four years ago. Magaziner's victory margin was 67% to 33%. There was no Republican primary for that office.
In other Northeast primaries, New York's incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo breezed 59% to 34% in the Democratic primary past Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who won a late legal challenge to get on the ballot.
In a three-way Democratic primary for governor in Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley defeated state Treasurer Steven Grossman 42% to 36%, with 99% of precincts reporting. Former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Donald Berwick got 21%.
Cuomo, seeking a second term, will compete against Republican Rob Astorino in November.
Coakley, looking to shed the stigma of having blown a 31-point lead to the GOP's Scott Brown in the 2010 special election for U.S. Senate, is paired against Republican Charlie Baker for the seat that two-term Gov. Deval Patrick will vacate in January. Baker breezed past Mark Fisher 74% to 26%.
Brown, who moved to New Hampshire, won that state's primary for U.S. Senate and will battle incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in November.
Raimondo, a former venture capitalist who founded Point Judith Capital, surged ahead of Taveras late in the campaign, according to opinion polls, to regain a lead she lost last winter. Ocean State observers say the late entry by Pell, the grandson of the late six-term U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, hurt Taveras.
"Gina Raimondo's a terrific person and as bright as anyone can be," said New York public finance guru Richard Ravitch, an unpaid consultant in the Detroit bankruptcy case and best known for advising New York City out of its dire financial crisis of the mid-1970s. "This is a young woman whose dad was on welfare, (she) earned a full scholarship and made money in private equity, then decided to give back to her state."
Finance and politics converged under a national spotlight in Rhode Island, where the spotlight shone on state and local public pension overhaul efforts and the fiasco surrounding failed video game 38 Studios, which left Rhode Island with more on the hook for the studio's debt. Also, Rhode Island's 7.7% unemployment rate is tied for third-worst in the country, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Central Falls filed for bankruptcy in 2011, a year in which Moody's Investors Service downgraded eight Ocean State municipalities. The 19,000-population city, which reported an $80 million unfunded pension liability at the time of its filing, emerged from Chapter 9 13 months later.
Raimondo, in winning, offset criticism over the 2011 law that overhauled the pension-benefit system for state employees. Critics also called her too cozy with Wall Street and lambasted her for her use of hedge funds in pension investments.
Unions are challenging the pension law in court and earlier this year, the police officers' union rejected a court-ordered compromise that Raimondo and Chafee had proposed.
"If Rhode Island had not made a change they would have been in big danger," said Ravitch.
Howard Cure, director of municipal research at Evercore Wealth Management in New York, lauded Raimondo for her straightforward approach and temerity. "With [Raimondo], the math was the math," said Cure. "She did something brave. She went into the eye of the storm and talked with union people in those great, big halls."
Cure also said Rhode Island's bondholder protection law, also in 2011, minimized spillover risk from the Central Falls bankruptcy to other Ocean State municipalities.
"They were worried about contagion and did a nice job ring-fencing the problem," he said.
In Massachusetts, Democrat Deborah Goldberg won a three-way primary for the treasurer's office Grossman is vacating and will face Republican Michael Heffernan in November.